LAVEEN — Br. Peter Teresa McConnell, FHS, the last of seven founding members of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, became a deacon this month in a ceremony that also marked the latest milestone for the steadily growing religious community filling the long unmet spiritual needs of Native Americans in the Diocese of Phoenix.
The ordination took place Mother’s Day, May 13, at St. John the Baptist Parish in Laveen, where the community’s seven members have lived since their arrival three years ago to begin discerning where God was calling them.
“Being the third anniversary, this is very significant for us; a blessing and really a breakthrough day for our community, (and) our ministry to Native Americans,” said Fr. Antony Tinker, FHS, community servant for the friars just before the Mass.
“Today, our brother receives a unique gift; a unique outpouring of the Spirit that will permanently change his soul,” said parochial vicar Fr. Benedict Mary Lieb, FHS, in his homily to a congregation of nearly 300. Like the other six founding members, Fr. Benedict Mary came from western Pennsylvania, where 20 years ago he was Br. Peter Teresa’s summer camp counselor.
“If you know him, you know he is a very wonderful person to be around. He’s always demonstrated to us wisdom, discernment, peacefulness. The diaconate is service of charity, which he seems to be made for,” Fr. Benedict Mary said, urging Br. Peter Teresa to continue to draw strength during times of “daily personal communion with God.”
After promising to “conform his way of life always to the example of Christ …,” Br. Peter Teresa remained prostrate upon the altar as the Litany of Supplication was delivered. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted then laid hands on the friar, ordaining him to the diaconate. He was then vested before being given the Book of the Gospels by the bishop.
“During the Litany of the Saints, I really felt the Spirit of God. As soon as the ceremony began and we started praying, I just knew in my soul this was right; that what God had planted in my soul 10 years ago was coming to pass. It’s really an exciting day. I am blessed,” Br. Peter Teresa said following the Mass.
Br. Peter Teresa’s personal progression has mirrored the growth of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to a Native American population hungry for spiritual food.
A series of circumstances led to the absence of resident priests at the mission for more than 30 years.
“The people wanted to have their spiritual fathers here, and they identified with the Franciscans more than anyone. You have (St.) Fr. Junípero Serra — who had evangelized the Native Americans — in California. So much of the United States was evangelized by Franciscans. That’s the way the Native people see it, so they responded with trust right away. You can see what’s happening. It’s beautiful,” said Bishop Olmsted after the Mass.
When the new Franciscans arrived in 2015, Sunday Mass drew about 75 worshippers. Today, that figure is over 300, requiring the Mission to add a second Mass. There were no youth groups. Today, there are two of them.
“This is totally God’s providence. Whenever we feel our own weakness the most, God often responds, and I think that’s what we found here,” the bishop noted.
Fr. Antony said the ranks of the Franciscan community is expected to grow, with eight now either in initial stages of formation or initial stages of post-novitiate formation.
Longtime St. John parishioners are overjoyed.
They see the re-establishment of catechesis and emphasis on the liturgy and the sacraments leading to further developments, such as more outreach to the homebound.
“This is what we really need,” said Monica Domingo, a prayer leader and part of a core group that asked God for years to return resident clerics to the mission.
“We’ve been praying for these priests before they were even born.”